the new unmasking

The political conventions are over—the Democrats gave it their best shot and Donald Trump screamed at the world. The highlight of the Republican convention for many was calling back Chachi from what I presume was a stage in Branson, Missouri.

By the way, if you have some down time this summer, a fun game to play with family or friends is Dead or Branson? Someone names a famous comedian, singer, or band, then everyone guesses whether the reason you no longer hear about them is either because they have passed on or because they are on the cusp, playing out their remaining days in Branson. You only need an Internet connection to play. It’s more fun, and informative, than you might think.

This year’s political quandary for serious Christians reminds me of Karl Barth’s situation one hundred years ago. When World War I began, ninety-three German intellectuals issued a manifesto that supported Kaiser Wilhem II’s war policy. To Barth’s dismay, the manifesto was signed by nearly all of his liberal German teachers, such as Adolf Harnack and Wilhelm Herrmann. Their compromise cast enormous doubt upon their teaching.

Barth later explained: “Their ethical failure indicated that their exegetical and dogmatic presuppositions could not be in order.” Thus, “a whole world of exegesis, ethics, dogmatics and preaching, which I had hitherto held to be essentially trustworthy, was shaken to the foundations, and with it, all the other writings of the German theologians.”

Barth said Schleiermacher “was unmasked. In a decisive way all the theology expressed in the manifesto and everything that followed it proved to be founded and governed by him.” Barth had discovered that if theology is the do-it-yourself method of liberalism, then one can compromise and produce any theology at will.

Something similar is happening today. I understand any Christian leader who lists reasons why we should vote against either Clinton or Trump. But what I don’t understand—and what Barth would say is dangerous—is any Christian leader who argues a positive case for either. Both are morally corrupt candidates who support morally corrupt policies. Trump supports divisive, racist policies, and Hillary supports divisive, religious policies. The Democratic platform espouses “a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate.” You have been warned.

As we begin the final stretch of our worst presidential election ever, let’s make sure we Christians avoid arguing why either candidate is a good choice. Anyone who says that has given up the moral high ground. Their view of God has been unmasked. They might get a few more votes for their candidate, but how many people will they drive away from Jesus?

Don’t sacrifice sound theology on the altar of political expediency. As Harnack and Herrmann did for Barth, you might ignite a revolution against what you hold most dear.

Photo by Diego Cambiaso. Via Flickr. Used by permission.




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20 responses to “the new unmasking”

  1. Elden Stielstra

    If we as Christians “must render to Caesar the things that are his.” Than it is not much of a theological stretch to say we must also vote. We really have only two choices. We are not electing a new head of our church or a pope. It is a secular job in a fallen world. One can be best qualified for a secular job while being only the “second best” or third best Christian – or maybe not even a Christian at all. If God is truly sovereign than these two candidates are there for a reason – a reason perhaps known only to him. Vote my friends. Worry about Bartian theology later.

  2. Claire

    I don’t think that wanting to monitor and regulate who comes into the country is a “racist” policy. Do you ever lock your doors? Why? You want to decide who you let into your house. Does that make you a racist? No. A wall built on the southern border is not racist against Latinos; it is securing the entry point of the majority of illegal aliens. Temporarily suspending immigration from Muslim countries where terrorism is a problem is not Islamophobic; it is prudently pausing to set up more effective vetting procedures so that potential terrorists are not among those allowed into the country. There is nothing theologically unsound or immoral about a sovereign nation establishing and enforcing borders and immigration policies.

  3. spnemo

    Once again, Christians will be known only by what they are against. Isn’t it possible for an evil person to take morally good positions on some things while holding morally bad positions on others? I think Christians will do better to say which positions are morally good while simultaneously saying the candidate’s character and bad positions are evil.

    I think the attitudes of out hearts reveal the true morality of out political decisions. If we are choosing fear of man and the future over trust in God, we are wrong.

  4. Judy Stielstra – History teacher

    FOR THOSE WHO SAY they will stay home on Election Day and not vote for Donald Trump. This is akin to a saying our mother used to tell my sister and me when we stubbornly stuck to something that was wrong. “You are cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

    Many who are Christians say they won’t vote for Mr. Trump even though he says he
    is a Christian. I am sure he had Christian influence growing up as he did display
    his mother’s Bible at one rally. Only God knows his heart. Isn’t it rather sanctimonious, however, of Christians to snub our only viable choice this November? “Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone” when casting aspersions on Mr. Trump. How many of you, as I, have been praying for our country? God is sovereign and He gave us Mr. Trump.

    We are not and never have been electing a Pastor, a Priest, or a choir boy as President. We want someone who loves our country, surrounds himself with good people as his secretaries, is honest, would honor our Constitution, is successful at running large corporations, would work well with Congress, makes protecting the American people his priority, would appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court, supports our police and military, believes in the Rule of Law, would fix our economy and has a highly successful record of being a firm negotiator with large foreign countries. Mr. Trump is committed to and capable of doing all of these. BillO’Reilly, to a guest on his show, said, “I have known Donald Trump for thirty years and I have always known him to be an honest man.”

    In 2012, seventeen million Republicans stayed home because they didn’t like Romney; so we endured four more destructive years of Obama and the Democratic Party. We cannot endure four more years with another Democrat who lies, steals, cheats, compromises our National Security, fails to protect Americans and is owned by foreign governments who have bought her favor with millions of dollars given to her self-serving Clinton Foundation? Not voting casts a vote for Clinton,

    Donald Trump is an American patriot who wants to save our country for his and America’s children and grandchildren He is an extremely successful business who graduated from the most prestigious business school in the U.S. He can rebuild our country financially so the American people can go back to work. Fine people like Dr. Ben Carson, Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christy, many fine military leaders forcibly retired ( fired) by Obama and others have his ear and have given him their support. He truly does want to make America great again

    Conservatives and Republicans need to put away their hurt egos, feelings, and
    vindictiveness and support our candidate, Donald Trump, for president. We will all pay dearly a terrible price if we lose this election in this moment in time. “United we stand; divided we fall.”
    Patrick Henry

  5. Charlie

    Dear Judy Stielstra the history teacher,

    The point of Wittmer’s article is that both major party candidates are unqualified. It is not sanctimonious to refuse to vote for any unfit candidate. Unfortunately, one of these unqualified candidates has also used racism and hyper-nationalism to fuel their speeches and Wittmer is very astute to compare our current situation to Barth’s historical situation. As a history teacher you should be well aware of what happens when a political party blends a form of Christianity with racial and national pride (just google “Germany’s Positive Christianity”). At its best the nation eventually embraces isolationism and at its worst it flagrantly uses military force to impose its will at home and abroad.

    Your comparing someone criticizing a political candidate to the narrative of the woman caught in adultery is completely unwarranted. Wittmer and others who are pointing out your chosen candidate’s failings are not executing them for their sins! Neither are they slandering your candidate, rather these very qualified individuals are making rational and even-tempered comments about both candidates.

    And yes, the current election is for a president and not a pastor or choir member, but let’s be brutally honest about the situation. Shouldn’t we at least want one or our major party candidates to at least appear a little honest? For example, not being indicted for breaking the law is not a moral victory, but neither is not being indicted for using a fake university to defraud students of their money a moral victory. Even worse is the fact that neither candidate is apologetic about their past actions and do not appear to have changed their moral compasses since then. It is time for this nation to break out of its political dualism and realize just because your against something does not mean you have to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”

    In closing:
    I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I always vote for the candidate that appears to be the best person for the position. Unfortunately, this year both of the major party candidates are not only atrociously unfit for office, but they also both represent a clear and present danger to the well being of the world, our nation, and the future of orthodox Christianity.


  6. Jeremy Hilty

    Claire and Judy nailed it. Bravo to both of you!

    I am so tired of hearing the word “racist”. FDR placed the Japanese people in camps during WWII. Why is that never mentioned at the DNC?

    No, you are quite right that neither candidate is great. But one of them is far worse. Vote, America. Please, give us one last chance to turn this ship back from a one-world government.

    Brexit was a good start! God Save the Queen!

  7. Jeremy Hilty

    Oh, and one more thing… You know what hurts us every election? Besides from all of the dead people voting? I will tell you. It’s Ohio, Dr. Wittmer. They decide every election the wrong way. We can’t trust anyone from Ohio!

  8. Gary

    This election cycle reminds me of the more accurate definition of a dilemma: “a situation that requires a choice between options that are or seem equally unfavorable or unsatisfactory.”

  9. Larry High


    Thanks for the post and for pointing out what should be obvious but sadly is not. On one hand we have a candidate that hates America, proven by such events as Benghazi when the protection of American lives was of less value than a personal agenda. On the other hand we have as Joel Belz put it a “Blow hard” who is an embarrassment to America.

    Both have proven by a lifetime of actions that money and power are their main motivations. Both have shown that that will walk on anyone who gets in their way. Both are unfit for office and speak volumes about cultural drift and decay. It is true that God raises up a nations leaders but I also think that history proves that He uses a nations leaders to bring judgment on the land land (Hitler, Stalin, Polpot, etc.).

    Not a time for fear but certainly a time to pray. Perhaps God will yet be merciful to us.

  10. Elizabeth Ann Davidhizar

    As I write, I happen to be simultaneously reading “The Reformation” by Diarmaid MacCulloch and “Nazi Gold” by Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting. As I reach each of these histories, I see that both movements (the Reformation) and the Nazi Socialist Party revealed religious and national divisiveness and had outcomes leading to the misery and death of so many people. My thoughts are not profound, but my grief is deep today I perceive the same level of divisiveness on a national, global scale and (so sad to say) in the church. There appears to be a “zeitgeist” of evil that is present in every age. It seems to stir up or fuel our greed, power and pride. Nothing seems to have changed with time. Why hasn’t the church, or, better yet, why haven’t I been able to make inroads against this culture of evil that appears poised to crest or apex once again in these next few years? The only thing I can think of doing to reach culture is to (daily by the Spirit of God….) love patiently, kindly, not hold grudges, not be easily offended, to bear other’s burdens, to forgive those who have harmed me, to touch the untouchable, to pray for those who desire to hurt me, to help those in need and to serve those who have been cast off as undesirable. The only other thing I can think of doing is to teach this to anyone who will listen. As far as the election in November, I have no idea what to do.

  11. Judy Stielstra – History teacher

    Check out what Wayne Grudem has to say about Trump.

  12. Claire

    I find it disappointing and disheartening that there are people who believe that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are equally bad choices for President. Also, who cares if other countries laugh at us? They’ve got their share of ridiculous politicians and foolish policies. It’s not a popularity contest.

    Think critically about what each candidate stands for on the issues that matter most to you. You’ll find that they are significantly different. Think about the vision for America that each party is working toward. Which one is the country you prefer to live in? Quit whining about the candidates we have this time around. Investigate, think, pray and vote!

    I will be voting for Donald Trump and the Republican Party because:
    1. I am prolife
    2. I am concerned about the erosion of, and outright attacks on, religious freedom in America
    3. I think it is of utmost importance and urgency to appoint more conservative Supreme Court Justices
    4. I believe in limited government, not a government that continues to take more power
    5. I want more governmental fiscal restraint and less debt for my children and grandchildren
    6. I want less federal government regulation and more state and local control

    I am certain that Donald Trump and the Republican Party align more with my political concerns and priorities than Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

  13. drivebymedia

    Of course we have morally corrupt politicians. It’s called the reality of a fallen human nature. James Madison wrote “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. ” this recognition of human nature is why we have the checks and balances of the different branches of our goverment (Madison says it with more flourish “we see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other”)

    For any one who wants to read the Wayne Grudem article it is here.

  14. Judy Stielstra – History teacher

    Please read Wayne Grudum’s well done piece on why he is voting for Trump.

  15. mikewittmer

    Thank you for your comments. I recommend reading Grudem’s article. Seeing it yesterday is what prompted me to write this post. I concur with much of what he says, though I think he glosses over Trump’s faults. E.g., It isn’t merely a ‘mistake’ to say we will bomb the families of terrorists. As there are no good choices in this election–voting for either one or not voting all have significant problems–let’s agree that Christians of good conscience can disagree, as long as we don’t identify Jesus or the cause of righteousness with either candidate.

  16. Larry High

    It is my opinion that Wayne Grudem (who I respect in many ways) literally crashed and burned in that endorsement. All of us may find ourselves voting for a candidate who is reprehensible but as Mike alludes in his post there is little to nothing that can be said positive about either one.

  17. Larry High

    Drive By,

    One last comment and I am done. It was the deist Thomas Jefferson who said “God who gave us life, gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation remain secure when we have removed the conviction that those liberties are the gift of god. Indeed I tremble for my country when a reflect that god is just and his justice cannot sleep forever.”

    Even the non-Christian Jefferson understood that there are ramifications to world views and our acknowledgement of God. When Madison wrote he wrote within a similar milieu where he understood that to maintain a separation of powers requires a basic belief in Truth. Without that belief the separation is only a smokescreen.

  18. Jeremy Hilty

    The “Dead or Branson?” game has been seriously shortchanged in this discussion. We need another blog post to give it its full due, Doc.

    Hillary already won the election. In a few months this discussion will be moot. Our country will never have Republican leadership again. I’m not trying to be gloom-and -doom. It’s just a fact. Mitt Romney was right. “You can’t compete with free stuff.”

  19. How many Bible schools and seminary professors do you think will drop his books from their syllabus because of his endorsement? His endorsement makes me question CBMW a little.

  20. Great article! And I was very amused how several of the commenters on this post still didn’t get it or see that their views are quite dangerously close to capitulating to political idolatry. As I see it, the choice between Hillary and Trump is like choosing between an evil mob boss (Hillary) and an evil dictator (Trump) both of which will say anything to gain power and get elected. Also, when Trump retweets false crime stats from a Neo-Nazi source called the Crime Statistics Bureau that is completely false about African Americans that was contradicted by FBI crime stats I think it is safe to say that Trump is racist. One of the stats that the fake Crime Statistics Bureau makes is that 81% of whites are killed by blacks, when in actuality, the FBI stats state that only 15% of whites are killed by blacks. This is race baiting and fear mongering at its basic level.

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